Not even in this Yankee lineup can A-Rod hide

BY Bob Klapisch • October 5, 2009

The clock was ticking down to 4:20 p.m., the exact moment at which the Yankees were expected to be on the field for stretching exercises. Tardiness is a serious offense in Joe Girardi's fiefdom, which is why no one dared to linger at his locker on Tuesday — every Yankee had cleared out of the clubhouse with time to spare.

All except one. Alex Rodriguez was sliding under the deadline by seconds, not minutes. The slugger was on the verge of being late, not because of traffic or a phone call or because he didn't like playing by Girardi's rules. Truth was, A-Rod had choreographed his afternoon with a surgeon's precision, hanging out in the players lounge until 4:19 and change in order to avoid reporters near his locker.

With time running out, A-Rod emerged from the lounge, scooping up his hat and glove as he hurried towards the door. "I'm a ghost," he said with a smile. And then he was gone.

Of course, Rodriguez has been anything but an apparition — he's the cleanup hitter in the major league's most fearsome offensive machine. But it's true, A-Rod hardly makes news anymore. He rarely allows himself to be quoted in anything but the most mundane, postgame sound bites.

The reason is as obvious as it is calculated. "Alex finally figured out the less he talks, the better off he is," said one friend. Indeed, ever since he confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs this spring, Rodriguez has sacrificed his Q-rating to Derek Jeter and his pursuit of Lou Gehrig's franchise hit-record, CC Sabathia and his quest for a 20-win season and Mark Teixeira, who might win two-thirds of the Triple Crown.

Still, A-Rod knows he can't hide forever, not with unfinished business in October. Since Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, the third baseman is batting .148 with one RBI in the postseason. Which is to say, Rodriguez still has to prove he's not overwhelmed by the burden of carrying the Yankees.

In many ways this is the most important postseason of A-Rod's career — the deck has never been so stacked his favor. He's been helped, if not eclipsed, by Teixeira, and has otherwise blended in with an offense that leads the American League in virtually every meaningful statistic, including runs, home runs, slugging percentage and OPS.

GM Brian Cashman intended no insult towards Rodriguez when he said, "This time, we're not going to live and die with Alex." There are layers of protection in this nuclear lineup. But sooner or later, Rodriguez will come to the plate in an important moment in the Division Series. And then what?

Until now, Rodriguez' postseason resume as a Yankee could be captured by this image: the over-exaggerated deep breaths, the stiff, mechanical swing and the look of a man who was, if not scared, certainly not comfortable.